Fielding (Dobson)/Chapter 2
CHAPTER II. MORE PLAYS—MARRIAGE—THE LICENSING ACT.
The very subordinate part in the Miser of “Furnish, an Upholsterer,” was taken by a third-rate actor, whose surname has been productive of no little misconception among Henry Fielding’s biographers. This was Timothy Fielding, sometime member of the Haymarket and Drury Lane companies, and proprietor, for several successive years, of a booth at Bartholomew, Southwark, and other fairs. In the absence of any Christian name, Mr. Lawrence seems to have rather rashly concluded that the Fielding mentioned by Genest as having a booth at Bartholomew Fair in 1733 with Hippisley (the original Peachum of the Beggar’s Opera), was Fielding the dramatist; and the mistake thus originated at once began that prosperous course which usually awaits any slip of the kind. It misled one notoriously careful inquirer, who, in his interesting chronicles of Bartholomew Fair, minutely investigated the actor’s history, giving precise details of his doings at “Bartlemy” from 1728 to 1736; but, although the theory involved obvious inconsistencies, apparently without any suspicion that the proprietor of the booth which stood, season after season, in the yard of the George Inn at Smithfield, was an entirely different person from his greater namesake. The late Dr. Rimbault carried the story farther still, and attempted to show, in Notes and Queries for May 1859, that Henry Fielding had a booth at Tottenham Court in 1738, “subsequent to his admission into the Middle Temple;” and he also promised to supply additional particulars to the effect that even 1738 was not the “last year of Fielding’s career as a booth-proprietor.” At this stage (probably for good reasons) inquiry seems to have slumbered, although, with the fatal vitality of error, the statement continued (and still continues) to be repeated in various quarters. In 1875, however, Mr. Frederick Latreille published a short article in Notes and Queries, proving conclusively, by extracts from contemporary newspapers and other sources, that the Timothy Fielding above referred to was the real Fielding of the fairs; that he became landlord of the Buffalo Tavern “at the corner of Bloomsbury Square” in 1733; and that he died in August 1738, his christian name, so often suppressed, being duly recorded in the register of the neighbouring church of St. George’s, where he was buried. The admirers of our great novelist owe Mr. Latreille a debt of gratitude for this opportune discovery. It is true that a certain element of Bohemian picturesqueness is lost to Henry Fielding’s life, already not very rich in recorded incident; and it would certainly have been curious if he, who ended his days in trying to dignify the judicial office, should have begun life by acting the part of a “trading justice,” namely that of Quorum in Coffey’s Beggar’s Wedding, which Timothy Fielding had played at Drury Lane. But, on the whole, it is satisfactory to know that his early experiences did not, of necessity, include those of a strolling player. Some obscure and temporary connection with Bartholomew Fair he may have had, as Smollett, in the scurrilous pamphlet issued in 1742, makes him say that he blew a trumpet there in quality of herald to a collection of wild beasts; but this is probably no more than an earlier and uglier form of the apparition laid by Mr. Latreille. The only positive evidence of any connection between Henry Fielding and the Smithfield carnival is, that Theophilus Cibber’s company played the Miser at their booth in August 1733.
With the exception of the Miser and an afterpiece, never printed, entitled Deborah; or, A Wife for you all, which was acted for Miss Raftor’s benefit in April 1733, nothing important was brought upon the stage by Fielding until January of the following year, when he produced the Intriguing Chambermaid, and a revised version of the Author’s Farce. By a succession of changes, which it is impossible here to describe in detail, considerable alterations had taken place in the management of Drury Lane. In the first place, Wilks was dead, and his share in the Patent was represented by his widow. Booth also was dead, and Mrs. Booth had sold her share to Giffard of Goodman’s Fields, while the elder Cibber had retired. At the beginning of the season of 1733-34 the leading patentee was an amateur called Highmore, who had purchased Cibber’s share. He had also purchased part of Booth’s share before his death in May 1733. The only other shareholder of importance was Mrs. Wilks. Shortly after the opening of the theatre in September, the greater part of the Drury Lane Company, led by the younger Cibber, revolted from Highmore and Mrs. Wilks, and set up for themselves. Matters were farther complicated by the fact that John Rich had not long opened a new theatre in Covent Garden, which constituted a fresh attraction; and that what Fielding called the “wanton affected Fondness for foreign Musick,” was making the Italian opera a dangerous rival—the more so as it was patronised by the nobility. Without actors, the patentees were in serious case. Miss Raftor, who about this time became Mrs. Clive, appears, however, to have remained faithful to them, as also did Henry Fielding. The lively little comedy of the Intriguing Chambermaid was adapted from Regnard especially for her; and in its published form was preceded by an epistle in which the dramatist dwells upon the “Factions and Divisions among the Players,” and compliments her upon her compassionate adherence to Mr. Highmore and Mrs. Wilks in their time of need. The epistle is also valuable for its warm and generous testimony to the private character of this accomplished actress, whose part in real life, says Fielding, was that of “the best Wife, the best Daughter, the best Sister, and the best Friend.” The words are more than mere compliment; they appear to have been true. Madcap and humourist as she was, no breath of slander seems ever to have tarnished the reputation of Kitty Clive, whom Johnson—a fine judge, when his prejudices were not actively aroused—called in addition “the best player that he ever saw.”
The Intriguing Chambermaid was produced on the 15th of January 1734. Lettice, from whom the piece was named, was well personated by Mrs. Clive, and Colonel Bluff by Macklin, the only actor of any promise that Highmore had been able to secure. With the new comedy the Author’s Farce was revived. It would be unnecessary to refer to this again, but for the additions that were made to it. These consisted chiefly in the substitution of Marplay Junior for Sparkish, the actor-manager of the first version. The death of Wilks may have been a reason for this alteration; but a stronger was no doubt the desire to throw ridicule upon Theophilus Cibber, whose behaviour in deserting Drury Lane immediately after his father had sold his share to Highmore had not passed without censure, nor had his father’s action escaped sarcastic comment. Theophilus Cibber—whose best part was Beaumont and Fletcher’s Copper Captain, and who carried the impersonation into private life, had played in several of Fielding’s pieces; but Fielding had linked his fortunes to those of the patentees, and was consequently against the players in this quarrel. The following scene was accordingly added to the farce for the exclusive benefit of “Young Marplay”:—
“Marplay junior. Mr. Luckless, I kiss your Hands—Sir, I am your most obedient humble Servant; you see, Mr. Luckless, what Power you have over me. I attend your Commands, tho’ several Persons of Quality have staid at Court for me above this Hour.
Luckless. I am obliged to you—I have a Tragedy for your House, Mr. Marplay.
Mar. jun. Ha! if you will send it me, I will give you my Opinion of it; and if I can make any Alterations in it that will be for its Advantage, I will do it freely.
Witmore. Alterations, Sir?
Mar. jun. Yes, Sir, Alterations—I will maintain it, let a Play be never so good, without Alteration it will do nothing.
Wit. Very odd indeed.
Mar. jun. Did you ever write, Sir?
Wit. No, Sir, I thank Heav’n.
Mar. jun. Oh! your humble Servant—your very humble Servant, Sir. When you write yourself you will find the Necessity of Alterations. Why, Sir, wou’d you guess that I had alter’d Shakespear?
Wit. Yes, faith, Sir, no one sooner.
Mar. jun. Alack-a-day! Was you to see the Plays when they are brought to us—a Parcel of crude, undigested Stuff. We are the Persons, Sir, who lick them into Form, that mould them into Shape—The Poet make the Play indeed! The Colour-man might be as well said to make the Picture, or the Weaver the Coat: My Father and I, Sir, are a Couple of poetical Tailors; when a Play is brought us, we consider it as a Tailor does his Coat, we cut it, Sir, we cut it: And let me tell you, we have the exact Measure of the Town, we know how to fit their Taste. The Poets, between you and me, are a Pack of ignorant—
Wit. Hold, hold, sir. This is not quite so civil to Mr. Luckless: Besides, as I take it, you have done the Town the Honour of writing yourself.
Mar. jun. Sir, you are a Man of Sense; and express yourself well. I did, as you say, once make a small Sally into Parnassus, took a sort of flying Leap over Helicon: But if ever they catch me there again— Sir, the Town have a Prejudice to my Family; for if any Play you’d have made them ashamed to damn it, mine must. It was all over Plot. It wou’d have made half a dozen Novels: Nor was it cram’d with a pack of Wit-traps, like Congreve and Wycherly, where every one knows when the Joke was coming. I defy the sharpest Critick of ’em all to know when any Jokes of mine were coming. The Dialogue was plain, easy, and natural, and not one single Joke in it from the Beginning to the End: Besides, Sir, there was one Scene of tender melancholy Conversation, enough to have melted a Heart of Stone; and yet they damn’d it: And they damn’d themselves; for they shall have no more of mine.
Wit. Take pity on the Town, Sir.
Mar. jun. I! No, Sir, no. I’ll write no more. No more; unless I am forc’d to it.
Luckless. That’s no easy thing, Marplay.
Mar. jun. Yes, Sir. Odes, Odes, a Man may be oblig’d to write those you know.” These concluding lines plainly refer to the elder Cibber’s appointment as Laureate in 1730, and to those “annual Birth-day Strains,” with which he so long delighted the irreverent; while the alteration of Shakespeare and the cobbling of plays generally, satirised again in a later scene, are strictly in accordance with contemporary accounts of the manners and customs of the two dictators of Drury Lane. The piece indicated by Marplay Junior was probably Theophilus Cibber’s Lover, which had been produced in January 1731 with very moderate success.
After the Intriguing Chambermaid and the revived Author’s Farce, Fielding seems to have made farther exertions for “the distressed Actors in Drury Lane.” He had always been an admirer of Cervantes, frequent references to whose master-work are to be found scattered through his plays; and he now busied himself with completing and expanding the loose scenes of the comedy of Don Quixote in England, which (as before stated) he had sketched at Leyden for his own diversion. He had already thought of bringing it upon the stage, but had been dissuaded from doing so by Cibber and Booth, who regarded it as wanting in novelty. Now, however, he strengthened it by the addition of some election scenes, in which—he tells Lord Chesterfield in the dedication—he designed to give a lively representation of “the Calamities brought on a Country by general Corruption;” and it was duly rehearsed. But unexpected delays took place in its production; the revolted players returned to Drury Lane; and, lest the actors’ benefits should further retard its appearance by postponing it until the winter season, Fielding transferred it to the Haymarket, where, according to Geneste, it was acted in April 1734. As a play, Don Quixote in England has few stage qualities and no plot to speak of. But the Don with his whimsies, and Sancho with his appetite and string of proverbs, are conceived in something of the spirit of Cervantes. Squire Badger, too, a rudimentary Squire Western, well represented by Macklin, is vigorously drawn; and the song of his huntsman Scut, beginning with the fine line “The dusky Night rides down the Sky,” has a verse that recalls a practice of which Addison accuses Sir Roger de Coverley:—
“A brushing Fox in yonder Wood, Secure to find we seek; For why, I carry’d sound and good, A Cartload there last Week. And a Hunting we will go.”
The election scenes, though but slightly attached to the main story, are keenly satirical, and considering that Hogarth’s famous series of kindred prints belongs to a much later date, must certainly have been novel, as may be gathered from the following little colloquy between Mr. Mayor and Messrs. Guzzle and Retail:—
“Mayor (to Retail) ....I like an Opposition, because otherwise a Man may be oblig’d to vote against his Party; therefore when we invite a Gentleman to stand, we invite him to spend his Money for the Honour of his Party; and when both Parties have spent as much as they are able, every honest Man will vote according to his Conscience.
Guz. Mr. Mayor talks like a Man of Sense and Honour, and it does me good to hear him.
May. Ay, ay, Mr. Guzzle, I never gave a Vote contrary to my Conscience. I have very earnestly recommended the Country-Interest to all my Brethren: But before that, I recommended the Town-Interest, that is, the interest of this Corporation; and first of all I recommended to every particular Man to take a particular Care of himself. And it is with a certain way of Reasoning, That he who serves me best, will serve the Town best; and he that serves the Town best, will serve the Country best.”
In the January and February of 1735 Fielding produced two more pieces at Drury Lane, a farce and a five-act comedy. The farce—a lively trifle enough—was An Old Man taught Wisdom, a title subsequently changed to the Virgin Unmasked. It was obviously written to display the talents of Mrs. Clive, who played in it her favourite character of a hoyden, and, after “interviewing” a number of suitors chosen by her father, finally ran away with Thomas the footman—a course in those days not without its parallel in high life, above stairs as well as below. It appears to have succeeded, though Bookish, one of the characters, was entirely withdrawn in deference to some disapprobation on the part of the audience; while the part of Wormwood, a lawyer, which is found in the latest editions, is said to have been “omitted in representation.” The comedy, entitled The Universal Gallant; or, The different Husbands, was scarcely so fortunate. Notwithstanding that Quin, who, after an absence of many years, had returned to Drury Lane, played a leading part, and that Theophilus Cibber in the hero, Captain Smart, seems to have been fitted with a character exactly suited to his talents and idiosyncrasy, the play ran no more than three nights. Till the third act was almost over, “the Audience,” says the Prompter (as quoted by “Sylvanus Urban”), “sat quiet, in hopes it would mend, till finding it grew worse and worse, they lost all Patience, and not an Expression or Sentiment afterwards pass’d without its deserved Censure.” Perhaps it is not to be wondered at that the author—“the prolifick Mr. Fielding,” as the Prompter calls him, attributed its condemnation to causes other than its lack of interest. In his Advertisement he openly complains of the “cruel Usage” his “poor Play” had met with, and of the barbarity of the young men about town who made “a Jest of damning Plays”—a pastime which, whether it prevailed in this case or not, no doubt existed, as Sarah Fielding afterwards refers to it in David Simple. If an author—he goes on to say—“be so unfortunate [as] to depend on the success of his Labours for his Bread, he must be an inhuman Creature indeed, who would out of sport and wantonness prevent a Man from getting a Livelihood in an honest and inoffensive Way, and make a jest of starving him and his Family.” The plea is a good one if the play is good; but if not, it is worthless. In this respect the public are like the French Cardinal in the story; and when the famished writer’s work fails to entertain them, they are fully justified in doubting his raison d’etre. There is no reason for supposing that the Universal Gallant deserved a better fate than it met with.
Judging from the time which elapsed between the production of this play and that of Pasquin (Fielding’s next theatrical venture), it has been conjectured that the interval was occupied by his marriage, and brief experience as a Dorsetshire country gentleman. The exact date of his marriage is not known, though it is generally assumed to have taken place in the beginning of 1735. But it may well have been earlier, for it will be observed that in the above quotation from the Preface to the Universal Gallant, which is dated from “Buckingham Street, Feb. 12,” he indirectly speaks of “his family.” This, it is true, may be no more than the pious fraud of a bachelor; but if it be taken literally, we must conclude that his marriage was already so far a thing of the past that he was already a father. This supposition would account for the absence of any record of the birth of a child during his forthcoming residence at East Stour, by the explanation that it had already happened in London; and it is not impossible that the entry of the marriage, too, may be hidden away in some obscure Metropolitan parish register, since those of Salisbury have been fruitlessly searched. At this distance of time, however, speculation is fruitless; and, in default of more definite information, the “spring of 1735,” which Keightley gives, must be accepted as the probable date of the marriage.
Concerning the lady, the particulars are more precise. She was a Miss Charlotte Cradock, one of three sisters living upon their own means at Salisbury, or—as it was then styled—New Sarum. Mr. Keightley’s personal inquiries, circa 1858, elicited the information that the family, now extinct, was highly respectable, but not of New Sarum’s best society. Richardson, in one of his malevolent outbursts, asserted that the sisters were illegitimate; but, says the writer above referred to, “of this circumstance we have no other proof, and I am able to add that the tradition of Salisbury knows nothing of it.”
They were, however, celebrated for their personal attractions; and if the picture given in chap. ii. book iv. of Tom Jones accurately represents the first Mrs. Fielding, she must have been a most charming brunette. Something of the stereotyped characteristics of a novelist’s heroine obviously enter into the description; but the luxuriant black hair, which, cut “to comply with the modern Fashion,” “curled so gracefully in her Neck,” the lustrous eyes, the dimple in the right cheek, the chin rather full than small, and the complexion having “more of the Lilly than of the Rose,” but flushing with exercise or modesty, are, doubtless, accurately set down. In speaking of the nose as “exactly regular,” Fielding appears to have deviated slightly from the truth; for we learn from Lady Louisa Stuart that, in this respect, Miss Cradock’s appearance had “suffered a little” from an accident mentioned in book ii. of Amelia, the overturning of a chaise. Whether she also possessed the mental qualities and accomplishments which fell to the lot of Sophia Western, we have no means of determining; but Lady Stuart is again our authority for saying that she was as amiable as she was handsome.
From the love-poems in the first volume of the Miscellanies of 1743— poems which their author declares to have been “Productions of the Heart rather than of the Head”—it is clear that Fielding had been attached to his future wife for several years previous to 1735. One of them, Advice to the Nymphs of New S——m, celebrates the charms of Celia—the poetical equivalent for Charlotte—as early as 1730; another, containing a reference to the player Anthony Boheme, who died in 1731, was probably written at the same time; while a third, in which, upon the special intervention of Jove himself, the prize of beauty is decreed by Venus to the Salisbury sisters, may be of an earlier date than any. The year 1730 was the year of his third piece, the Author’s Farce, and he must therefore have been paying his addresses to Miss Cradock not very long after his arrival in London. This is a fact to be borne in mind. So early an attachment to a good and beautiful girl, living no farther off than Salisbury, where his own father probably resided, is scarcely consistent with the reckless dissipation which has been laid to his charge, although, on his own showing, he was by no means faultless. But it is a part of natures like his to exaggerate their errors in the moment of repentance; and it may well be that Henry Fielding, too, was not so black as he painted himself. Of his love-verses he says—“this Branch of Writing is what I very little pretend to;” and it would be misleading to rate them highly, for, unlike his literary descendant, Mr. Thackeray, he never attained to any special quality of note. But some of his octosyllabics, if they cannot be called equal to Prior’s, fall little below Swift’s. “I hate”—cries he in one of the pieces,
“I hate the Town, and all its Ways; Ridotto’s, Opera’s, and Plays; The Ball, the King, the Mall, the Court; Wherever the Beau-Monde resort.... All Coffee-Houses, and their Praters; All Courts of Justice, and Debaters; All Taverns, and the Sots within ’em; All Bubbles, and the Rogues that skin ’em,”
—and so forth, the natural anti-climax being that he loves nothing but his “Charmer” at Salisbury. In another, which is headed To Celia— Occasioned by her apprehending her House would be broke open, and having an old Fellow to guard it, who sat up all Night, with a Gun without any Ammunition, and from which it has been concluded that the Miss Cradocks were their own landlords, Venus chides Cupid for neglecting to guard her favourite:—
“‘Come tell me, Urchin, tell no lies; Where was you hid, in Vince’s eyes? Did you fair Bennet’s Breast importune? (I know you dearly love a Fortune.)’ Poor Cupid now began to whine; ‘Mamma, it was no Fault of mine. I in a Dimple lay perdue, That little Guard-Room chose by you. A hundred Loves (all arm’d) did grace The Beauties of her Neck and Face; Thence, by a Sigh I dispossest, Was blown to Harry Fielding’s Breast; Where I was forc’d all Night to stay, Because I could not find my Way. But did Mamma know there what Work I’ve made, how acted like a Turk; What Pains, what Torment he endures, Which no Physician ever cures, She would forgive.’ The Goddess smil’d, And gently chuck’d her wicked Child, Bid him go back, and take more Care, And give her Service to the Fair.”
Swift, in his Rhapsody on Poetry, 1733, coupled Fielding with Leonard Welsted as an instance of sinking in verse. But the foregoing, which he could not have seen, is scarcely, if at all, inferior to his own Birthday Poems to Stella. [Footnote: Swift afterwards substituted “the laureate [Cibber]” for “Fielding,” and appears to have changed his mind as to the latter’s merits. “I can assure Mr. Fielding,” says Mrs. Pilkington in the third and last volume of her Memoirs (1754), “the Dean had a high opinion of his Wit, which must be a Pleasure to him, as no Man was ever better qualified to judge, possessing it so eminently himself.”]
The history of Fielding’s marriage rests so exclusively upon the statements of Arthur Murphy that it will be well to quote his words in full:—
“Mr. Fielding had not been long a writer for the stage, when he married Miss Craddock [sic], a beauty from Salisbury. About that time, his mother dying, a moderate estate, at Stower in Dorsetshire, devolved to him. To that place he retired with his wife, on whom he doated, with a resolution to bid adieu to all the follies and intemperances to which he had addicted himself in the career of a town-life. But unfortunately a kind of family-pride here gained an ascendant over him; and he began immediately to vie in splendour with the neighbouring country ‘squires. With an estate not much above two hundred pounds a-year, and his wife’s fortune, which did not exceed fifteen hundred pounds, he encumbered himself with a large retinue of servants, all clad in costly yellow liveries. For their master’s honour, these people could not descend so low as to be careful in their apparel, but, in a month or two, were unfit to be seen; the ‘squire’s dignity required that they should be new-equipped; and his chief pleasure consisting in society and convivial mirth, hospitality threw open his doors, and, in less than three years, entertainments, hounds, and horses, entirely devoured a little patrimony, which, had it been managed with oeconomy, might have secured to him a state of independence for the rest of his life, etc.”
This passage, which has played a conspicuous part in all biographies of Fielding, was very carefully sifted by Mr. Keightley, who came to the conclusion that it was a “mere tissue of error and inconsistency.” [Footnote: Some of Mr. Keightley’s criticisms were anticipated by Watson.] Without going to this length, we must admit that it is manifestly incorrect in many respects. If Fielding married in 1735 (though, as already pointed out, he may have married earlier, and retired to the country upon the failure of the Universal Gallant), he is certainly inaccurately described as “not having been long a writer for the stage,” since writing for the stage had been his chief occupation for seven years. Then again his mother had died as far back as April 10, 1718, when he was a boy of eleven; and if he had inherited anything from her, he had probably been in the enjoyment of it ever since he came of age. Furthermore, the statement as to “three years” is at variance with the fact that, according to the dedication to the Universal Gallant, he was still in London in February 1735, and was back again managing the Haymarket in the first months of 1736. Murphy, however, may only mean that the “estate” at East Stour was in his possession for three years. Mr. Keightley’s other points—namely, that the “tolerably respectable farm-house,” in which he is supposed to have lived, was scarcely adapted to “splendid entertainments,” or “a large retinue of servants;” and that, to be in strict accordance with the family arms, the liveries should have been not “yellow,” but white and blue—must be taken for what they are worth. On the whole, the probability is, that Murphy’s words were only the careless repetition of local tittle-tattle, of much of which, as Captain Booth says pertinently in Amelia, “the only basis is lying.” The squires of the neighbourhood would naturally regard the dashing young gentleman from London with the same distrustful hostility that Addison’s “Tory Foxhunter” exhibited to those who differed with him in politics. It would be remembered, besides, that the new-comer was the son of another and an earlier Fielding of less pretensions, and no real cordiality could ever have existed between them. Indeed, it may be assumed that this was the case, for Booth’s account of the opposition and ridicule which he—“a poor renter!”—encountered when he enlarged his farm and set up his coach has a distinct personal accent. That he was lavish, and lived beyond his means, is quite in accordance with his character. The man who, as a Bow Street magistrate, kept open house on a pittance, was not likely to be less lavish as a country gentleman, with L1500 in his pocket, and newly married to a young and handsome wife. “He would have wanted money,” said Lady Mary, “if his hereditary lands had been as extensive as his imagination;” and there can be little doubt that the rafters of the old farm by the Stour, with the great locust tree at the back, which is figured in Hutchins’s History of Dorset, rang often to hunting choruses, and that not seldom the “dusky Night rode down the Sky” over the prostrate forms of Harry Fielding’s guests. [Footnote: An interesting relic of the East Stour residence has recently been presented by Mr. Merthyr Guest (through Mr. R. A. Kinglake) to the Somersetshire Archaeological Society. It is an oak table of solid proportions, and bears on a brass plate the following inscription, emanating from a former owner:—“This table belonged to Henry Fielding, Esq., novelist. He hunted from East Stour Farm, 1718, and in three years dissipated his fortune keeping hounds.” In 1718, it may be observed, Fielding was a boy of eleven. Probably the whole of the latter sentence is nothing more than a distortion of Murphy.] But even L1500, and (in spite of Murphy) it is by no means clear that he had anything more, could scarcely last for ever. Whether his footmen wore yellow or not, a few brief months found him again in town. That he was able to rent a theatre may perhaps be accepted as proof that his profuse hospitalities had not completely exhausted his means.
The moment was a favourable one for a fresh theatrical experiment. The stage-world was split up into factions, the players were disorganised, and everything seemed in confusion. Whether Fielding himself conceived the idea of making capital out of this state of things, or whether it was suggested to him by some of the company who had acted Don Quixote in England, it is impossible to say. In the first months of 1736, however, he took the little French Theatre in the Haymarket, and opened it with a company which he christened the “Great Mogul’s Company of Comedians,” who were further described as “having dropped from the Clouds.” The “Great Mogul” was a name sometimes given by playwrights to the elder Cibber; but there is no reason for supposing that any allusion to him was intended on this occasion. The company, with the exception of Macklin, who was playing at Drury Lane, consisted chiefly of the actors in Don Quixote in England; and the first piece was entitled Pasquin: a Dramatick Satire on the Times: being the Rehearsal of Two Plays, viz. a Comedy call’d the Election, and a Tragedy call’d the Life and Death of Common-Sense. The form of this work, which belongs to the same class as Sheridan’s Critic and Buckingham’s Rehearsal, was probably determined by Fielding’s past experience of the public taste. His latest comedy had failed, and its predecessors had not been very successful. But his burlesques had met with a better reception, while the election episodes in Don Quixote had seemed to disclose a fresh field for the satire of contemporary manners. And in the satire of contemporary manners he felt his strength lay. The success of Pasquin proved he had not miscalculated, for it ran more than forty nights, drawing, if we may believe the unknown author of the life of Theophilus Cibber, numerous and enthusiastic audiences “from Grosvenor, Cavendish, Hanover, and all the other fashionable Squares, as also from Pall Mall, and the Inns of Court.”
In regard to plot, the comedy which Pasquin contains scarcely deserves the name. It consists of a string of loosely-connected scenes, which depict the shameless political corruption of the Walpole era with a good deal of boldness and humour. The sole difference between the “Court party,” represented by two Candidates with the Bunyan-like names of Lord Place and Colonel Promise, and the “Country party,” whose nominees are Sir Harry Fox-Chace and Squire Tankard, is that the former bribe openly, the latter indirectly. The Mayor, whose sympathies are with the “Country party” is finally induced by his wife to vote for and return the other side, although they are in a minority; and the play is concluded by the precipitate marriage of his daughter with Colonel Promise. Mr. Fustian, the Tragic Author, who, with Mr. Sneerwell the Critic, is one of the spectators of the rehearsal, demurs to the abruptness with which this ingenious catastrophe is brought about, and inquires where the preliminary action, of which there is not the slightest evidence in the piece itself, has taken place. Thereupon Trapwit, the Comic Author, replies as follows, in one of those passages which show that, whatever Fielding’s dramatic limitations may have been, he was at least a keen critic of stage practice:—
“ Trapwit. Why, behind the Scenes, Sir. What, would you have every Thing brought upon the Stage? I intend to bring ours to the Dignity of the French Stage; and I have Horace’s Advice of my Side; we have many Things both said and done in our Comedies, which might be better perform’d behind the Scenes: The French, you know, banish all Cruelty from their Stage; and I don’t see why we should bring on a Lady in ours, practising all manner of Cruelty upon her Lover: beside, Sir, we do not only produce it, but encourage it; for I could name you some Comedies, if I would, where a Woman is brought in for four Acts together, behaving to a worthy Man in a Manner for which she almost deserves to be hang’d; and in the Fifth, forsooth, she is rewarded with him for a Husband: Now, Sir, as I know this hits some Tastes, and am willing to oblige all, I have given every Lady a Latitude of thinking mine has behaved in whatever Manner she would have her.”
The part of Lord Place in the Election, after the first few nights, was taken by Cibber’s daughter, the notorious Mrs. Charlotte Charke, whose extraordinary Memoirs are among the curiosities of eighteenth-century literature, and whose experiences were as varied as those of any character in fiction. She does not seem to have acted in the Life and Death of Common-Sense, the rehearsal of which followed that of the Election. This is a burlesque of the Tom Thumb type, much of which is written in vigorous blank verse. Queen Common-Sense is conspired against by Firebrand, Priest of the Sun, by Law, and by Physic. Law is incensed because she has endeavoured to make his piebald jargon intelligible; Physic because she has preferred Water Gruel to all his drugs; and Firebrand because she would restrain the power of Priests. Some of the strokes must have gone home to those receptive hearers who, as one contemporary account informs us, “were dull enough not only to think they contain’d Wit and Humour, but Truth also”:—
“Queen Common-Sense. My Lord of Law, I sent for you this Morning;
I have a strange Petition given to me; Two Men, it seems, have lately been at Law For an Estate, which both of them have lost, And their Attorneys now divide between them. Law. Madam, these things will happen in the Law. Q. C. S. Will they, my Lord? then better we had none: But I have also heard a sweet Bird sing, That Men, unable to discharge their Debts At a short Warning, being sued for them, Have, with both Power and Will their Debts to pay Lain all their Lives in Prison for their Costs. Law. That may perhaps be some poor Person’s Case, Too mean to entertain your Royal Ear. Q. C. S. My Lord, while I am Queen I shall not think One Man too mean, or poor, to be redress’d; Moreover, Lord, I am inform’d your Laws Are grown so large, and daily yet encrease, That the great Age of old Methusalem Would scarce suffice to read your Statutes out.”
There is also much more than merely transitory satire in the speech of “Firebrand” to the Queen:—
“Firebrand. Ha! do you doubt it? nay, if you doubt that, I will prove nothing—But my zeal inspires me, And I will tell you, Madam, you yourself Are a most deadly Enemy to the Sun, And all his Priests have greatest Cause to wish You had been never born. Q. C. S. Ha! say’st thou, Priest? Then know I honour and adore the Sun! And when I see his Light, and feel his Warmth, I glow with naming Gratitude toward him; But know, I never will adore a Priest, Who wears Pride’s Face beneath Religion’s Mask. And makes a Pick-Lock of his Piety, To steal away the Liberty of Mankind. But while I live, I’ll never give thee Power. Firebrand. Madam, our Power is not deriv’d from you, Nor any one: ’Twas sent us in a Box From the great Sun himself, and Carriage paid; Phaeton brought it when he overturn’d The Chariot of the Sun into the Sea. Q. C. S. Shew me the Instrument, and let me read it. Fireb. Madam, you cannot read it, for being thrown Into the Sea, the Water has so damag’d it, That none but Priests could ever read it since.”
In the end, Firebrand stabs Common-Sense, but her Ghost frightens Ignorance off the Stage, upon which Sneerwell says—“I am glad you make Common-Sense get the better at last; I was under terrible Apprehensions for your Moral.” “Faith, Sir,” says Fustian, “this is almost the only Play where she has got the better lately.” And so the piece closes. But it would be wrong to quit it without some reference to the numberless little touches by which, throughout the whole, the humours of dramatic life behind the scenes are ironically depicted. The Comic Poet is arrested on his way from “King’s Coffee-House,“ and the claim being “for upwards of Four Pound,” it is at first supposed that “he will hardly get Bail.” He is subsequently inquired after by a Gentlewoman in a Riding-Hood, whom he passes off as a Lady of Quality, but who, in reality, is bringing him a clean shirt. There are difficulties with one of the Ghosts, who has a “Church-yard Cough,” and “is so Lame he can hardly walk the Stage;” while another comes to rehearsal without being properly floured, because the stage barber has gone to Drury Lane “to shave the Sultan in the New Entertainment.” On the other hand, the Ghost of Queen Common-Sense appears before she is killed, and is with some difficulty persuaded that her action is premature. Part of “the Mob” play truant to see a show in the park; Law, straying without the playhouse passage is snapped up by a Lord Chief-Justice’s Warrant; and a Jew carries off one of the Maids of Honour. These little incidents, together with the unblushing realism of the Pots of Porter that are made to do duty for wine, and the extra two-penny worth of Lightning that is ordered against the first night, are all in the spirit of that inimitable picture of the Strolling Actresses dressing in a Barn, which Hogarth gave to the world two years later, and which, very possibly, may have borrowed some of its inspiration from Fielding’s “dramatic satire.”
There is every reason to suppose that the profits of Pasquin were far greater than those of any of its author’s previous efforts. In a rare contemporary caricature, preserved in the British Museum, [Footnote: Political and Personal Satires, No. 2287.] the “Queen of Common-Sense” is shown presenting “Henry Fielding, Esq.,” with a well-filled purse, while to “Harlequin” (John Rich of Covent Garden) she extends a halter; and in some doggerel lines underneath, reference is made to the “show’rs of Gold” resulting from the piece. This, of course, might be no more than a poetical fiction; but Fielding himself attests the pecuniary success of Pasquin in the Dedication to Tumble-Down Dick, and Mrs. Charke’s statement in her Memoirs that her salary for acting the small part of Lord Place was four guineas a week, “with an Indulgence in Point of Charges at her Benefit” by which she cleared sixty guineas, certainly points to a prosperous exchequer. Fielding’s own benefit, as appears from the curious ticket attributed to Hogarth and facsimiled by A. M. Ireland, took place on April 25, but we have no record of the amount of his gains. Mrs. Charke farther says that “soon after Pasquin began to droop,” Fielding produced Lillo’s Fatal Curiosity in which she acted Agnes. This tragedy, founded on a Cornish story, is one of remarkable power and passion; but upon its first appearance it made little impression, although in the succeeding year it was acted to greater advantage in combination with another satirical medley by Fielding, the Historical Register for the Year 1736.
Like most sequels, the Historical Register had neither the vogue nor the wit of its predecessor. It was only half as long, and it was even more disconnected in character. “Harmonious Cibber,” as Swift calls him, whose “preposterous Odes” had already been ridiculed in Pasquin and the Author’s Farce, was once more brought on the stage as Ground-Ivy, for his alterations of Shakespeare; and under the name of Pistol, Theophilus Cibber is made to refer to the contention between his second wife, Arne’s sister, and Mrs. Clive, for the honour of playing “Polly” in the Beggar’s Opera, a play-house feud which at the latter end of 1736 had engaged “the Town” almost as seriously as the earlier rivalry of Faustina and Cuzzoni. This continued raillery of the Cibbers is, as Fielding himself seems to have felt, a “Jest a little overacted;” but there is one scene in the piece of undeniable freshness and humour, to wit, that in which Cock, the famous salesman of the Piazzas—the George Robins of his day—is brought on the stage as Mr. Auctioneer Hen (a part taken by Mrs. Charke). His wares, “collected by the indefatigable Pains of that celebrated Virtuoso, Peter Humdrum, Esq.,” include such desirable items as “curious Remnants of Political Honesty,” “delicate Pieces of Patriotism,” Modesty (which does not obtain a bid), Courage, Wit, and “a very neat clear Conscience” of great capacity, “which has been worn by a Judge, and a Bishop.” The “Cardinal Virtues” are then put up, and eighteen-pence is bid for them. But after they have been knocked down at this extravagant sum, the buyer complains that he had understood the auctioneer to say “a Cardinal’s Virtues,” and that the lot he has purchased includes “Temperance and Chastity, and a Pack of Stuff that he would not give three Farthings for.” The whole of this scene is “admirable fooling;” and it was afterwards impudently stolen by Theophilus Cibber for his farce of the Auction. The Historical Register concludes with a dialogue between Quidam, in whom the audience recognised Sir Robert Walpole, and four patriots, to whom he gives a purse which has an instantaneous effect upon their opinions. All five then go off dancing to Quidam’s fiddle; and it is explained that they have holes in their pockets through which the money will fall as they dance, enabling the donor to pick it all up again, “and so not lose one Half-penny by his Generosity.”
The frank effrontery of satire like the foregoing had by this time begun to attract the attention of the Ministry, whose withers had already been sharply wrung by Pasquin; and it has been conjectured that the ballet of Quidam and the Patriots played no small part in precipitating the famous “Licensing Act,” which was passed a few weeks afterwards. Like the marriage which succeeded the funeral of Hamlet’s father, it certainly “followed hard upon.” But the reformation of the stage had already been contemplated by the Legislature; and two years before, Sir John Barnard had brought in a bill “to restrain the number of houses for playing of Interludes, and for the better regulating of common Players of Interludes.” This, however, had been abandoned, because it was proposed to add a clause enlarging the power of the Lord Chamberlain in licensing plays, an addition to which the introducer of the measure made strong objection. He thought the power of the Lord Chamberlain already too great, and in support of his argument he instanced its wanton exercise in the case of Gay’s Polly, the representation of which had been suddenly prohibited a few years earlier. But Pasquin and the Register brought the question of dramatic lawlessness again to the front, and a bill was hurriedly drawn, one effect of which was to revive the very provision that Sir John Barnard had opposed. The history of this affair is exceedingly obscure, and in all probability it has never been completely revealed. The received or authorised version is to be found in Coxe’s Life of Walpole. After dwelling on the offence given to the Government by Pasquin, the writer goes on to say that Giffard, the manager of Goodman’s Fields, brought Walpole a farce called The Golden Rump, which had been proposed for exhibition. Whether he did this to extort money, or to ask advice, is not clear. In either case, Walpole is said to have “paid the profits which might have accrued from the performance, and detained the copy.” He then made a compendious selection of the treasonable and profane passages it contained. These he submitted to independent members of both parties, and afterwards read them in the House itself. The result was that by way of amendment to the “Vagrant Act” of Anne’s reign, a bill was prepared limiting the number of theatres, and compelling all dramatic writers to obtain a license from the Lord Chamberlain. Such is Coxe’s account; but notwithstanding its circumstantial character, it has been insinuated in the sham memoirs of the younger Cibber, and it is plainly asserted in the Rambler’s Magazine for 1787, that certain preliminary details have been conveniently suppressed. It is alleged that Walpole himself caused the farce in question to be written, and to be offered to Giffard, for the purpose of introducing his scheme of reform; and the suggestion is not without a certain remote plausibility. As may be guessed, however, The Golden Rump cannot be appealed to. It was never printed, although its title is identical with that of a caricature published in March 1737, and fully described in the Gentleman’s Magazine for that month. If the play at all resembled the design, it must have been obscene and scurrilous in the extreme. [Footnote: Horace Walpole, in his Memoires of the Last Ten Years of the Reign of George II., says (vol. i. p. 12), “I have in my possession the imperfect copy of this piece as I found it among my father’s papers after his death.” He calls it Fielding’s; but no importance can be attached to the statement. There is a copy of the caricature in the British Museum Print Room (Political and Personal Satires, No. 2327).]
Meanwhile the new bill, to which it had given rise, passed rapidly through both Houses. Report speaks of animated discussions and warm opposition. But there are no traces of any divisions, or petitions against it, and the only speech which has survived is the very elaborate and careful oration delivered in the Upper House by Lord Chesterfield. The “second Cicero”—as Sylvanus Urban styles him—opposed the bill upon the ground that it would affect the liberty of the press; and that it was practically a tax upon the chief property of men of letters, their wit—a “precarious dependence”—which (he thanked God) my Lords were not obliged to rely upon. He dwelt also upon the value of the stage as a fearless censor of vice and folly; and he quoted with excellent effect but doubtful accuracy the famous answer of the Prince of Conti [Conde] to Moliere [Louis XIV.] when Tartuffe was interdicted at the instance of M. de Lamoignon:—“It is true, Moliere, Harlequin ridicules Heaven, and exposes religion; but you have done much worse—you have ridiculed the first minister of religion.” This, although not directly advanced for the purpose, really indicated the head and front of Fielding’s offending in Pasquin and the Historical Register, and although in Lord Chesterfield’s speech the former is ironically condemned, it may well be that Fielding, whose Don Quixote had been dedicated to his Lordship, was the wire-puller in this case, and supplied this very illustration. At all events it is entirely in the spirit of Firebrand’s words in Pasquin:—
“Speak boldly; by the Powers I serve, I swear You speak in Safety, even tho’ you speak Against the Gods, provided that you speak Not against Priests.”
But the feeling of Parliament in favour of drastic legislation was even stronger than the persuasive periods of Chesterfield, and on the 21st of June 1737 the bill received the royal assent.
With its passing Fielding’s career as a dramatic author practically closed. In his dedication of the Historical Register to “the Publick,” he had spoken of his desire to beautify and enlarge his little theatre, and to procure a better company of actors; and he had added—“If Nature hath given me any Talents at ridiculing Vice and Imposture, I shall not be indolent, nor afraid of exerting them, while the Liberty of the Press and Stage subsists, that is to say, while we have any Liberty left among us.” To all these projects the “Licensing Act” effectively put an end; and the only other plays from his pen which were produced subsequently to this date were the “Wedding Day,” 1743, and the posthumous Good-Natured Man, 1779, both of which, as is plain from the Preface to the Miscellanies, were among his earliest attempts. In the little farce of Miss Lucy in Town, 1742, he had, he says, but “a very small Share.” Besides these, there are three hasty and flimsy pieces which belong to the early part of 1737. The first of these, Tumble-Down Dick; or, Phaeton in the Suds, was a dramatic sketch in ridicule of the unmeaning Entertainments and Harlequinades of John Rich at Covent Garden. This was ironically dedicated to Rich, under his stage name of “John Lun,” and from the dedication it appears that Rich had brought out an unsuccessful satire on Pasquin called Marforio. The other two were Eurydice, a profane and pointless farce, afterwards printed by its author (in anticipation of Beaumarchais) “as it was d—mned at the Theatre-Royal in Drury-Lane;” and a few detached scenes in which, under the title of Eurydice Hiss’d; or, a Word to the Wise, its untoward fate was attributed to the “frail Promise of uncertain Friends.” But even in these careless and half-considered productions there are happy strokes; and one scarcely looks to find such nervous and sensible lines in a mere a propos as these from Eurydice Hiss’d:—
“Yet grant it shou’d succeed, grant that by Chance, Or by the Whim and Madness of the Town, A Farce without Contrivance, without Sense Should run to the Astonishment of Mankind; Think how you will be read in After-times, When Friends are not, and the impartial Judge Shall with the meanest Scribbler rank your Name; Who would not rather wish a Butler’s fame, Distress’d, and poor in every thing but Merit, Than be the blundering Laureat to a Court?”
Self-accusatory passages such as this—and there are others like it— indicate a higher ideal of dramatic writing than Fielding is held to have attained, and probably the key to them is to be found in that reaction of better judgment which seems invariably to have followed his most reckless efforts. It was a part of his sanguine and impulsive nature to be as easily persuaded that his work was worthless as that it was excellent. “When,” says Murphy, “he was not under the immediate urgency of want, they, who were intimate with him, are ready to aver that he had a mind greatly superior to anything mean or little; when his finances were exhausted, he was not the most elegant in his choice of the means to redress himself, and he would instantly exhibit a farce or a puppet-shew in the Haymarket theatre, which was wholly inconsistent with the profession he had embarked in.” The quotation displays all Murphy’s loose and negligent way of dealing with his facts; for, with the exception of Miss Lucy in Town, which can scarcely be ranked among his works at all, there is absolutely no trace of Fielding’s having exhibited either “puppet-show” or “farce” after seriously adopting the law as a profession, nor does there appear to have been much acting at the Haymarket for some time after his management had closed in 1737. Still, his superficial characteristics, which do not depend so much upon Murphy as upon those “who were intimate with him,” are probably accurately described, and they sufficiently account for many of the obvious discordances of his work and life. That he was fully conscious of something higher than his actual achievement as a dramatist is clear from his own observation in later life, “that he left off writing for the stage, when he ought to have begun;”—an utterance which (we shrewdly suspect) has prompted not a little profitless speculation as to whether, if he had continued to write plays, they would have been equal to, or worse than, his novels. The discussion would be highly interesting, if there were the slightest chance that it could be attended with any satisfactory result. But the truth is, that the very materials are wanting. Fielding “left off writing for the stage” when he was under thirty; Tom Jones was published in 1749, when he was more than forty. His plays were written in haste; his novels at leisure, and when, for the most part, he was relieved from that “immediate urgency of want,” which, according to Murphy, characterised his younger days. If— as has been suggested—we could compare a novel written at thirty with a play of the same date, or a play written at forty with Tom Jones, the comparison might be instructive, although even then considerable allowances would have to be made for the essential difference between plays and novels. But, as we cannot make such a comparison, further inquiry is simply waste of time. All we can safely affirm is, that the plays of Fielding’s youth did not equal the fictions of his maturity; and that, of those plays, the comedies were less successful than the farces and burlesques. Among other reasons for this latter difference one chiefly may be given:—that in the comedies he sought to reproduce the artificial world of Congreve and Wycherley, while in the burlesques and farces he depicted the world in which he lived.